I saw the best minds of my generation ...
Start liking it. As the middle class in the West is picked clean and tossed away, Moloch will need something else to eat.
If Marx teaches us nothing else, he teaches us that everything id downstream of technology and economics. The state of technology determines what choices are possible; economics determines what choices are feasible. If technology makes a restaurant possible, a rich man can have anything on the menu. A poor man must budget. A housecat can plump out on "Tender Vittles". A feral cat must hunt or find a trash can.
Taken to its logical conclusion, this instrumentalist worldview is sociopathic. Thing is, Marx is wrong about a lot of things, but this time he is right, and on a larger scale even than Machiavelli. What both had in common is that sought to describe accurately *how* *the* *real* *world* *actually* *works*, how the princes really act, regardless of their fine-sounding justifications and the glib propaganda produced by their smirking courtiers.
This is the real reason that Marx, or at least his worldview, is opposed to the worldview of Christ. Not because the Frankfurt School tried to offer cultural (as opposed to economic) explanations as to why The Revolution hadn't happened yet, but because Christ saw people as something other than instrumental, as tools to be judged by their usefulness, as props in a play or greyhounds to be killed if they can't make the cut.
You get no earthly rewards for treating humans and cats as you would wish to be treated. Quite the contrary. In fact, the people of wealth, power and influence are but glorified sociopaths and behave accordingly (or they would soon lose their high places), but even so, many will die peacefully in their beds, loved and celebrated by many. They got their rewards. They got The Goodies up front.
Rathe, Christ teaches us to follow Him, even though our earthly goals are furthered by treating others as means for us to achieve our ends, even though the earthly consequences of following Christ (whether you use that specific term or not) are temptation, mockery and suffering.
If you think about it, if the Real World really is all there is, to follow Christ is insane. No wonder The Way is narrow, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.....
Interesting essay, as always.
One phrase comes to my mind as the most pertinent one about sacrifice ; it comes from Allegri's "Miserere" which I listen to often. The text must be very old, and I don't know who is speaking, but it is not essential. The speaker says at one point that the sacrifice that (the Christian) God wants is a repentant heart. That speaks to me radically. The repentant heart was meant to blot out a great deal of those smoking, bloody animal sacrifices in various temples all over the world, including in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The sacrifice of a repentant heart, coupled with Jesus's sacrifice in his bloody physical death by crucifixion, and Mary's trial at seeing her child suffer and die before her are the sacrifices that the Christian world offers in replacement of the old ways. The institution of the Catholic Church constantly reactualized Christ's sacrifice in the ceremony of the Mass. Very important.
That said... it seems to me that we are witnessing the birth of a new religion that is emerging from scientific scepticism. This has been coalescing maybe since the 19th century, the century that gave us the word "ecology", a modern construction from Greek etymons/roots. I don't like this religion at all, but what is emerging seems religious to me in its goals, and in its attempt at universal ? colonisation. Will it constitute... a transcendance ? Is it already attempting to constitute a transcendance ? It's funny how fast ideas can flip-flop in the Internet age.
Colonisation goes way back. The ancient Greeks were colonising, and the spread of their culture, their language is deeply responsible for where we are right now.
Speaking of the Greeks, and the Athenians... maybe some people here know that the cynicism, the hopelessness about corruption in democracy can be seen in Aristophanes, so there is nothing new about it, even if we would like to think that technology is radically changing us.
And on democracy : years ago, Konrad Lorenz wrote a book called the ten ? capital sins of capitalism, and he speculated briefly about democracy, comparing it to the phenomenon of schools of fish where identical individuals were grouped together in masses/schools, and maintained an identical distance between each other. In the school of fish there are no couples, no sexual reproduction between two partners, and no "child rearing" because there is no.. individual identity among the.. individuals.
Is the god who is tormenting us Moloch or... Dionysos ?
Probably Moloch is more straightforward than Dionysos. Dionysos is the god of the theatre, of wine... spirits, we could say. When he gets hold of people, they go berserk.
"All the world's a stage"... that is Dionysos' world. God help us when the theatre is everywhere BUT on the stage.
For sure, the slavery issue is sending us berserk right now. Trying to figure out who is a slave and who isn't, and hoping that WE aren't secretly slaves...
I am watching my kids raising their little ones, and it is hard sometimes. I have tried telling them that there is a world between saying "thank you" to a child who does something that you have asked him to do, or something that pleases you, and saying "bravo". There is a world of difference between the two responses, and the slavery issue is a big part of it, in ways that we have a hard time seeing.
Meanwhile, Google is claiming a breakthrough with Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). https://techcrunch.com/2022/05/13/deepminds-new-ai-can-perform-over-600-tasks-from-playing-games-to-controlling-robots/
It has a name: Gato.
Ginsberg's poem 'Howl' really hit me in the gut when I first read it, back in the early 60s. I've just had my own book about this subject published - it's called 'Village Building at the End of the World', and covers into much the same material as Paul's essay series on 'The Machine' (I hope it's OK to mention it here). I've referred to Rudolf Steiner's work on the old Zoroastrian 'devil', Ahriman, as an embodiment of the 'dark force' that's behind all this - I think it works very well as a symbol for the relentless tenacity with which it is trying to pull us downwards into a kind of zombie state - to replace the Human with the robotic, and turn the human spirit into a nightmarish simulacrum of itself. I agree with Paul that the best way we can meet this threat is to 'turn away from the Machine in our own hearts and minds, one human soul at a time'.
One thought in relation to the business of revolution: as I read Tom Holland's _Dominion_ I was struck by the fact that the Age of Revolutions does NOT begin in the late 18th century, but rather goes back far earlier, and is to be associated with Christianity. My sense is that once Christianity has taken root, then you have a repeated revolutionary impulse, an attempt to realise heaven on earth; the French / Russian / etc. revolutions are simply continuations of the tradition (and revolutions of this kind seem to me conspicuously absent in antiquity).
Also, when I read 'what does Progress want?', I immediately thought 'peace.' I think this answer would be given on a common-sense level by many, and it has roots in the liberal-enlightened tradition (e.g., Kant's Perpetual Peace). A parallel thought came up in relation to Del Noce's "today it is no longer possible" - many were shocked by the Ukraine war because they actually believed that today such a thing is no longer possible (in Europe - and of course some believe that Kant's dream came true in Europe with the EU).
Another gut punch.
Yesterday, I was thinking about a curious trend in higher education. I'm a college instructor, but I also help chair our school's assessment committee, so I had to attend an assessment conference this past fall. I only had time for 5 or so sessions, but in at least 3 of them (maybe it was even 4!) the idea of either "assessing spiritual wellness" or "promoting loving action" to our students came up, sometimes just as an off-hand comment, sometimes as a more developed theme. This seemed absolutely bizarre to me and I couldn't make sense of it.
Since then, I've seen this idea of "love" in higher ed come up a few times. A couple weeks ago, I was in a meeting and a participant mentioned the idea of "loving students across the finish line" (in a conversation about student success and graduation rates). Just yesterday I was watching a Youtube conversation with two major figures in my field talking about the idea of "love as praxis" in course design. The concept of "love" is becoming the trendy new higher ed thing, and it's weird! And it jives pretty well with what you're discussing here--the transcendent being co-opted by the worldly institutions. College as the new church, where you don't just learn an academic discipline but also learn to "love" (and are maybe even asked to self-assess spiritual wellness???) Perhaps the culture of higher ed wants to replace religion with itself. I don't want to jump to conclusions, and I imagine the intentions of the people espousing this are good (i.e. they want the best for students), but...there is something sinister behind it, it seems to me.
Precisely. Learning Latin is great! But without humility, prayer, ascetic practice.. it becomes as you suggest, swallowed by the market of personal “fulfillment”. I mean even in Plato’s day, they were constantly arguing if you could actually instruct someone to “be a good person”. Socrate’s main critique was that you couldn’t trust people (Sophists) who accepted payment, claiming to churn out model statesmen...
Paul - have you read Iain McGilchrist or encountered his ideas around our divided brain, and the subordination of parts of our cognition (contextual, intuitive) by other parts (rational, instrumental) and how this might tie into your ideas around the Machine?
I am early in my exploration of both his ideas and yours, but I would love to see you two in conversation.
I was saying "Yes! Yes!" practically throughout.
I have been working intensively with the book of the prophet Isaiah, and the commonality of insight is very great. (This will result in a series of poem - commentaries to be published, one each day, for the month of June. If you're interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Here as examples are the prefaratory piece https://1drv.ms/w/s!Ak-ZGUK4cysygeUW1if_a7LrCz17Rg and a specimen https://1drv.ms/w/s!Ak-ZGUK4cysygeVKGmVzdkOJEsfqwg 0 )
The point is that Isaiah himself lived through a very similar time to the one described here. He struggles to plot a way through over some 40 years, trying to find a way to allevate or delay the coming disaster. This is the closest section to the analysis we've been reading for the last year. It ends with the final disaster looming.
From about the two-thirds point of the book, the focus changes, and the writing is some 100-150 years later, from the community of First Isaiah's followers. The questions now are, for sixteen chapters, when there's an opportunity to start again, how do recognise it and how to we take it? And then, a few years after that, it becomes, how do we avoid making the same mistakes again?
People may recall that my purpose in being here is to help answer the question, "How can I live well and tell good news stories in post-industrial West Yorkshire?" My thought is that some of the stories from the (generally unsuccessful) attempts to build a renewed society after the Exile in Babylon had ended might throw light on what to try and what to avoid now: offer something positive as well as negative in the criticism of Kelly, Zuckerberg et al.
This is exactly why I pay for a subscription, this was perhaps one of your best pieces of writing Paul, and laid out a lot of the problems facing modern society in a general abstract way. It reminded me a lot of Scott Alexander's essay on Moloch, which also turned me onto his substack as well.
Transcendence is, of course, the problem and that we now are told from a very early age that transcendence is stupid and it cannot occur. Either by our parents, by our teachers, or what I see most of all, by our friends. The problem that faces us and that both Moloch and the Anti-Christ represent is the issue of unabashed materialism. A few months ago, I was sitting in church and the Gospel reading was from Mark, Jesus and the Rich Young Man. That reading resonated with me a great deal that day, because it gets to the very core of what is wrong with our society, both back in the ancient world and especially now. We have to give up our possessions, but we have built a society around acquiring 'thing' after 'thing.' David Bentley Hart argued that this is what made Christ so radical, because when he says to give up your possessions and follow, He means it. He doesn't mean, give up some of your possessions, or give up a few things and volunteer more, all those things are good, but it truly means to give up your life and follow.
I think this is why so many people despise monks. We either exoticize them in the Buddhist tradition, or laugh at them in the Christian tradition, because we could never even dream of doing what they have done. Dedicate their life to poverty.
There have been, of course, other paths throughout time. I think about Punk Rock in the 70s and 80s, that had band members eating out of garbage cans, and truly throwing away the materialist side of society. But today, much like Guy Debord would write in his work on the Society of Spectacle, this is just a shadow image now. A symbol without meaning. Of people going to concerts to get their badges and showing off their credentials instead of living a distinct lifestyle. Monks, you could say, have not abandoned that tradition.
It is a slow process for me and every day I struggle greatly with faith. Trying to find more strength in the church, and to give more back to my community, with the hope that one day, that similar to Galahad or Percival, that I will tread on a path that leads to greater understanding, transcendence, and love. But materialism, I fully believe, is the greatest road block to that path.
Something further is that we need to rediscover how to die. So much of materialism and then transhumanism postulates this silly idea that we will live forever, that we will enjoy the fruits of our vast wealth forever, but we won't. We no longer die in the home, instead perishing hooked up to massive machinery, trying to squeeze more rotten life out of us. Learning how to die nobly again I think would be a big step in the confrontation with Moloch.
I would like to think that what you're feeling is the beginning of the end of the profoundly anti-human theo-technology of "americanization."Some of its more devoted apostles (eg, Walter Russell Mead) do demand (and in these exact words) a permanent revolution. Nevertheless, "it is history that teaches us to hope," as Genl Robert E Lee said. And I personally am profoundly hopeful. It's analogous, perhaps, to the end of the Soviet regime in Russia, when people simply stopped believing the lies. I do not think they are as powerful as they think they are, either.
This essay seems to me like a condensed and updated version of the book 'Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age' by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose. The book is one chapter of what was intended to be a monumental book titled 'The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man'. Rose (who earlier in his life had known and followed Alan Ginsberg and the other Beat poets) began writing it in 1962 but afterwards gave up the project eventually becoming an Orthodox monk in the hills of northern California. This book really blew my mind with its perceptiveness when I first read it - highly recommended.
Great work. Your writings are much appreciated in these times, Paul. You are articulating so many things for us that really resonate, and for me give me a sense of sanity.
Before Lockdown One I published a rather pretentiously ambitious poem which contained a segment written from the perspective of a pagan force, gloating over its renewed strength in an age of modern excess and discontent. I can remember being vividly struck by a sense of divine guidance at the time. Most likely arrogance on my part. This little snippet came to mind:
'The swollen waters of a cave's belly
bid its dangled stalactites to fall
and be swallowed.'
We are drowning in the waters of a cave. And as you have written, we deny transcendence.
In my limited experience, ideas of this ilk are dismissed as old-world gobbledegook, at every opportunity, and yet almost no one really seems to behave as though they genuinely believe that humans are insignificant and without purpose or calling. Every moderately functioning person has some sort of polestar.
After my own process of bafflement and discovery, hope and despair, conviction and confusion, I am now gripped by the belief that, polestar wise, anything less than God will destroy. But it is taking time and great effort for the scales to fall from my eyes.
Also, framing Howl in the context of your essays was great, here the words cut me to the bone in a way they haven't since the first time I read it, so thank you!
This one has left me stunned.
Where you see the fearsome approach of the machine, I see a machine in decline. Its story is less energetic every year. More and more people escape its narrative. Shelves are empty, communication networks degrade, more police is hired to delay the inevitable.
The West is dying, long live the East.
I agree with your writing and outlook. It really hits home and puts to words a lot of what I feel. But what to do? How to resist? The only way I have found sanity and a modicum of understanding it to getting back to the patterns of nature. Eating seasonally and suffering through the boom years and celebrating on the years of a big harvest. This year is a bust year for my blueberries. Of course I am not off the grid but I am a bit removed from total dependence. I am unplugged in a lot of ways. I don't have a smart phone so when I am somewhere I am just there. The call of the screen is not always pulling me away from the real world. The most important thing is that I am a Orthodox Traditionalist Anglican. Daily I try to follow our lectionary and pray at least one of the daily offices. There is nothing better and it keeps us on the real and focused on things past the immediate.